Japanese officials have announced that Mt. Fuji is poised to become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Although an important UN advisory council, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, has already recommended that the designation be made for the well-known volcano, the official call will be made when UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee convenes in Cambodia this June. Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san, as it’s known in Japan) is far and away the nation’s most revered peak, as well as the highest at 3,776 meters (12,460 feet).
Despite being a natural formation, the picture-perfect mountain is set to be listed as a cultural site, rather than natural, on the vaunted World Heritage List. This distinction is fair. Fuji’s snow-capped likeness was favored as a motif in traditional art, from landscape paintings on scrolls to wood block prints. Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, a series of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) by Edo-period artist Katsushika Hokusai, is perhaps the most celebrated depiction of the near perfectly conical peak.
Hokusai’s renditions of Fuji reveal its changing face across the seasons and in different weather conditions. Outdoing himself, Hokusai later painted One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji and fellow woodblock painter Ando Hiroshige followed up with his own version of Thirty-six Views.
Fuji is also said to be one of the nation’s most sacred spots and one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains,” alongside Mt. Tate and Mt. Haku. The reputation stems from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a 10th century Japanese folktale that is considered one of the nation’s oldest existing stories. The ancient yarn tells of a goddess who left the elixir of life (the secret of immortality) atop Fuji – hence Hokusai’s obsession with the peak.
Fuji’s last eruption occurred in 1707, but it remains active. Some speculate that Fuji may one day erupt again – a disaster that would displace an estimated 750,000 from the nearby Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. But that isn’t likely to stop visitors.
Fuji is also extremely popular among hikers (since it involves little climbing), with some 319,000 hikers summiting in 2012. Many who climb the peak do so overnight to see the sun rise the next morning. Although straightforward, the hike is notorious for being more grueling than many a casual hiker anticipates.
Japan has 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites at present (12 cultural, four natural). If Fuji is added to the list, it could be a major tourism boon for the area.
"I expect many people will visit us,” said Hidetada Sudo, mayor of Fujinomiya City. “This is a huge step for our city's development.”